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TITLE (EDIT)
Looking Over The Berlin Wall:
DESCRIPTION
Personal Memories of a Divided Berlin
[993 words]
TITLE KEYWORD
History
AUTHOR
Dave Springer
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
-
[July 2010]
AUTHOR'S E-MAIL ADDRESS
davexrev@aol.com
AUTHOR'S OTHER TITLES (3)
The Scents Of Danger (Children) When terrified as a kid, I could sense a certain something in my nose. [1,071 words] [Thriller]
The Turtle Returns (Children) I once had a box turtle, who kept escaping, and returning! [864 words] [Animal]
What The Chipmunk Taught (Children) Native American grandfather and grandson each teach the other interesting lessons. [747 words]
Looking Over The Berlin Wall:
Dave Springer


Personal Memories of a Divided Berlin

Poet Robert Frost wrote, “Something there is that doesn't love a wall”; oft the specific Wall thought of in association with that poem, 'Mending Walls', is the Berlin Wall. However, I'm not doing an analysis, but a sharing a memory, for I was there. I saw the Wall from both sides of that infamous structure. It was a powerful experience.


In 1966, shortly after the fifth anniversary of the Wall was celebrated in East Berlin, I was part of a group of teens that toured northwestern Europe. We were from the New York Conference of the Methodist Church; I was eighteen. We had been in the German Democratic Republic, the GDR, as East Germany was called officially, for nearly a week before arriving in Berlin by a steam locomotive, smoke belching from the stack, just like a train in the movies.


Our group was mostly housed by families. Another fellow and I stayed with a jeweler who owned a very sizable apartment in the city, which was unusual for one family to have so much space. Like several other folk I met earlier, he had had the opportunity to leave for the West when the Wall was being built, but had returned. The reason each of them provided was the same. They would put up with the tyranny of the GDR's socialist system because they wanted to remain close to their extended families, who could not get free to cross.


Early on the morning we were to depart East Berlin, through the well known 'Checkpoint Charlie', our host took us out for a quick private tour of some parts of his side of the town. There were bombed out blocks, whole city blocks, that were just flat pavement – nothing had been built on the sites since W W II. At one such desolate space, he stopped the automobile (another rarity for a private citizen to have).


“Do you boys see that platform on the other side of the Wall?” we were asked. We did. “That's where the tourist go to look over the wall.” Then we drove back, packed and soon rejoined our tour group. When we got to the checkpoint, the East German guards asked what we had in our bags. For instance, you were not allowed to take any GDR money out of the country. (I did smuggle out a few aluminum coins.) Our leader, who was born German, but came to the US as a boy, answered the soldier with two words.


“Schmutzige Wasche.” Which translated meant, dirty laundry.


Obviously we were no threat to a nation that had put a wall up to keep their citizens in, not tourists (with hard currency, that is to say money backed by gold) who had dollars to spend. So we crossed the border without any harm or even being searched. But on the other side, there were little memorial sites of crosses and flowers, along the Wall here and there, where some of the 171 persons who died trying to make it over were shot and killed. The pictures in magazines showed the barbed wire on top. What you also saw, when there in person, was the broken glass shards that were set in the cement right below the wicked wire, sticking up like dragon's teeth. Just a year later, they re-engineered the whole length of the Wall and made it even tougher to get to the West.


Then, we took a tour of West Berlin. As you likely anticipated, yes, we included that platform which sightseers climbed to look over the wall. It wasn't that big, maybe ten by twenty feet and just high enough so we could see the tank traps on the other side, There was a guard tower in each direction about 100 yards from where we stood. The two dozen of us, students and chaperons, all were silent in that somber moment, contemplating that stretch of no man's land and learning the meaning of liberty.


I looked over the wide paving beyond, across the vacant block, to where I had been that morning. Perhaps a football field's length I had crossed, from early morning to right then. It was not the time it took, nor even the short distance – just the fact that I could cross safely, and a whole half a city could not. That view gave freedom a real and tangible meaning it had never had before.


Nearly a quarter of a century later, in 1989 the despicable division was torn down. “Something there is that doesn't love a wall”, wrote Frost, and this jagged lethal partition of the Iron Curtain was very hated indeed. When the upgraded Wall was in the news, I provided a speech for one of my school classes (it was Speech class) telling about my experiences above. I used pictures from Life Magazine, with an overhead projector and a few drawn diagrams on the chalkboard to try to convey the ugly nature of that bellicose barrier. President Reagan, expressed the world's sentiment about the situation when he said, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”


Freedom is a precious thing. It is the liberty to walk a city block – in any direction you wish, and not fear that you will be stopped, or even possibly killed. It is the happy opportunity to visit family, going and coming as you pleased. It is a lot of things, even just the chance to buy a pair of blue jeans, as one German teenage girl told this American boy. Yeah, I looked over the wall, from both sides, on the same day, and learned the true meaning of Frost's poem, particularly when he wrote:


“Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offense.
Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That wants it down . . .”

 

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COPYRIGHT NOTICE
© 2010 Dave Springer
STORYMANIA PUBLICATION DATE
July 2010
NUMBER OF TIMES TITLE VIEWED
1156
 

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